Brendan Carroll captivated St. Patrick's audience

 ... a memorable Saint Patrick's night

Jackie Wattenberg

Melrose singer Brendan Carroll greeted an almost full house in Stoneham Theatre to celebrate Saint Patrick's Day by a program of the grand old and some new Irish songs. From his first song, the audience was with him, and at the last, insisting on more.

Such is the talent of Mr. Carroll, and such is his unassuming, genial personality and gentle humor. His posters may have spelled out "Irish Tenor," since there are today the three famous operatic tenors, and the three Irish tenors - why no famous Irish baritones? And that's what he is, an Irish baritone with a beautiful, mellow, resonant quality that he sustains within his full fine range, changing only when he soars to a surprisingly high and clear falsetto.

That evening's celebration was shared by two Melrose sopranos, Marcy Holbrook and Jean Dancewicz, the fine Melrose pianist John Montanus, Mr. Carroll's brother P.J. who flew in from Ireland with his piano accordion, and the amazing O'Shea/Chaplin Dancers.

No superficial showoff performer, Mr. Carroll takes each Irish song seriously, expressing its message with a genuineness and sensitivity to its mood. The sweet softness of "Macushla," the stern beat of "The Minstrel Boy," stark drama of the moving "Four Green Fields," tender sentiment of "Danny Boy," the energy of "The Kerry Dancers" -- he conveys their content from his heart, simply, and with no histrionics.

And the Irish in the theatre couldn't hold back, a man behind me muttering words that he probably had learned in childhood; so the star of the evening invited us all to join with him in oldies such as "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling," "My Wild Irish Rose," and "Irish Lullaby". Sure'n the Irish had a grand time that night!

P.J. Carroll, beaming and seemingly right at ease in his visit here, stirred hearty applause for the quick-fingered work on his piano-accordion, offering about the best sound I've heard from that instrument and adding spark to the evening's fare.

The two sopranos were in and out all evening, singing together and with Brendan, and presenting a cheery bit about almost being Irish. They invited a tall Irishman from the audience, sat him on a stool where he accepted a big green bow tie and beret, and serenaded him. A willing and amusing subject, John Flynn had come from Norton for the celebration.

Ms. Dancewicz brought another member of the audience to the stage, a sweet little girl to whom she sang a song - this Mr. Carroll's daughter Emily. The song was charmingly rendered in the singer's full and lustrous tones. Later, Marcy Holbrook expressed with affecting emotion a distinctive song, "Only a Woman," in her lovely lyrical soprano. A hit of the evening was their teaming with Carroll in the old charmer, "Molly Malone".

When the young dancers came on stage, their stunning red and gold costumes inspired applause. And then their marvelous, beautifully coordinated, quick-stepping, deft-kicking movements entranced the audience. All young and attractive, they included a tiny one appearing no older than five or six who was right in tempo, right in step with the whole well-disciplined group. An impressive injection of color!

Accompanist for the busy evening, John Montanus opened the program with a spirited number, and later played very delicately a lovely little "Nocturne" by an early, little-known Irish composer, John Field, which could have been an influence on Chopin, who composed so many of his own.

When Mr. Carroll mentioned that after one more song the program would be ending, eager voices cried out "Oh no, you're not!" Carroll countered, "Oh yes, we are!" Another retort, back and forth, until the happy listeners had to go out into the slushy night, with a memorable Saint Patrick's night in their Irish (or almost Irish) hearts.

April 2, 2004

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